Last fall, 2013, Andi, one of my ninth grade students was fretting about how the changes in the redesigned SAT would affect her. “Was the new SAT really going to be like the ACT?” “If they were going to be alike, should she just prep for the ACT?” “ Would the new SAT be harder than the ACT?” “Easier?” All I could say, then, was “Wait until College Board releases more information next fall!” Well, now the College Board has released its preview of the new version.

Andi was right. The new SAT will be similar to the ACT; however, it will also be different. “Easier” or “harder” depends on Andi herself – her particular needs and skills. Now, when she asks me again what test to take, I will tell her (and other members of the class of 2017):

OVERALL: By March, 2016, both tests will be online. Also the redesigned SAT will be roughly the same length as   the ACT, about 3 hours. However, Andi, there’s one big difference in timing to consider:

Time allowed for each question: You’ll have more time per question on the new SAT than on the ACT. If you don’t have an accommodation for extended time and you need more time, the SAT may be better for you.

READING SECTION: Much of the redesigned SAT reading section will be similar to the ACT: the passages will be under 750 words and will come from literature, social science, humanities, and science.

It will also, as in the ACT, have no sentence completions.   On the current SAT reading section, more than 1/3 of the questions are sentence completions; the word choices are quite advanced.   The new SAT will give you “words in context” questions (with less difficult words) throughout the reading, similar to the “words in context” questions in the ACT. If you are better at sentence completions than reading comprehension, you will no longer have this advantage on the redesigned SAT.

The redesigned SAT, though, will have:

one reading passage taken from a United States “founding document” or from the “Great Global Conversation,” that is, a document such as the Constitution or a speech or publication related to some great historical moment. If you’re not familiar with history, this passage may be difficult for you.

evidence-based questions. For each passage, at least one question will ask you to choose a quote from the text that best supports the answer you have chosen for the preceding question. This change adds a more difficult question to the new SAT.

charts, graphs and figures. The redesigned SAT won’t have a science section. However, a reading passage will include questions similar to those in the science section of the ACT. There will still be less science on the new SAT than on the ACT, but there is some. While the new SAT may still be better for students who are weak in science, it will be closer to ACT than the SAT is now.

THE WRITING MULTIPLE CHOICE SECTION: Instead of random sentences with errors in them, the new SAT will provide coherent essays with errors, just as the ACT does. Some of the questions will focus on commas, colons and semicolons, also as the ACT test does. The real differences?

scientific charts and graphs in the writing multiple choice section. Some questions will require students to interpret graphics and edit the passages so that they accurately convey the information in the graphics.

evidence-based questions. Students will be asked to analyze sequences of paragraphs to make sure they are correct in their meaning as well as their usage.

THE ESSAY will be optional.     Whether it is truly optional, of course, depends on whether your college requires the essay.

Also, if you’re happy with your essay score the first time you take the SAT, you can submit it separately for those colleges that require it and, on subsequent SAT’s, you can chose not to write the essay. You have always had that option on the ACT.

There are also some differences:

50 minutes for the essay instead of the 25 minutes allowed on the current SAT and the 30 minutes allowed on the ACT.   After 3 hours of test, another 50 minutes may seem daunting. The ACT may be easier because it’s shorter, but the ACT topics, which now focus on school issues, may be less interesting and give less opportunity for good writing.

a different prompt. The current SAT question asks for an opinion which you document with information from your studies — literature or history, for example.

The redesigned SAT prompt won’t want your opinion; it will ask what strategies the author uses to build his argument, how s/he uses “evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive devices,” how, for example, s/he uses figurative language or periodic sentences to make her point. This question is more like the analytic essay on the AP Language and Composition test than it is like the question on the ACT.

The question may be more difficult than the question on the ACT. On the other hand, you may value this kind of question because it does test your analytic and reasoning skills, and it’s closer to the requirements of the Core Curriculum.

THE MATH SECTION: The actual subject matter and level of the redesigned SAT will be more like the ACT. There will be much less geometry on the new SAT than on the current test. A new section called “Additional Topics in Math” will include the more advanced math that is now on the ACT. The differences between the two tests which may make the new SAT more challenging than the ACT include:

types of questions.     The math questions will focus more on understanding the problem than on getting the answer. So the new SAT will ask questions that prevent you from using test-taking strategies such as working backwards from the answers or plugging in numbers.  Also many of the problems will ask you to use math to solve real-world problems in context rather    than abstract problems with no context.

no calculators on one of the two math sections

If Andi wants to avoid the issue altogether, she can take her SAT in November, December or January, 2015. She has to take the new PSAT in October, but the redesigned SAT won’t be given until March, 2016. For a few students, taking the SAT early will be OK, but research suggests that most students need that last half of their junior years to achieve their best scores. Andi needs to decide if she’s someone who can take it early and still score well.

Finally, in answer to her question about whether the new SAT will be harder than the ACT, I will tell Andi that the “evidence-based” questions in the reading and writing multiple choice sections, , the language analysis question in the essay, and the types of math questions all may make the SAT more difficult than the ACT for some students.

However, the new SAT will allow her more time, and, in many ways, provide her with questions tied to the Core Curriculum.

If Andi wants more information, she can find a few examples of the questions on the College Board website However, College Board hasn’t released a complete sample test yet.   She can also check the Kahn Academy website. Kahn Academy, the College Board’s partner, has promised to release prep materials in the future. She can then, with her tutors and her family, decide which test is best for her based on her own skills, values, and goals.


Joan Barickman

Tutor for Tests, Study Skills, and Academic Class Work

Richard Corn

Tutor for Tests and Academic Class Work in Mathematics

Category: Barickman Tutoring - Westchester , High School Tests , SAT Test Preparation

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